Firewatching by Russ Thomas @thevoiceofruss @simonschsteruk @jessbarratt88 #Firewatching

Source: Review copy
Publication: 20th February 2020 from Simon and Schuster UK
PP: 432
ISBN-13: 978-1471180927


A body is found bricked into the walls of a house. From the state of the hands, it’s clear the dead man was buried alive. Soon, the victim is linked to an old missing person’s case and DS Adam Tyler is called.


As the sole representative of South Yorkshire’s Cold Case Review Unit, Tyler recognises his role for what it is – a means of keeping him out of the way following an ‘incident’. When this case falls in his lap, he grabs the opportunity to fix his stagnating career.


And then Tyler discovers he has a connection to the case that hopelessly compromises him. He makes the snap decision not to tell his superiors, certain that he and only he can solve the crime. But now Tyler must move carefully to find out the truth, without destroying the case or himself.

Meanwhile, someone in the city knows exactly what happened to the body. Someone who is watching Adam closely. Someone with an unhealthy affinity with fire. . .

I do like a debut crime novel. There’s something about meeting a protagonist for the first time, getting to know their foibles and working out their strengths and weak points. DS Adam Tyler works the South Yorkshire Cold Case Unit solo.  He’s lucky to have a job at all after an incident which left his face scarred and his reputation tarnished. It’s only thanks to the patronage of DCI Diane Jordan that he still has a job at all. Adam is a loner, looked on mainly with suspicion by his colleagues. The son of a policeman who committed suicide when Adam was just a boy, after allegations of corruption were levelled against him.  It was Adam who found the body.

Adam is gay and that’s known in the station. He’s been urged to socialise himself with a view to making himself more part of the team, and almost pushed into the forces LGBTQI society. On his first, somewhat reluctant, social evening with the group, he ends up taking a young attractive man home.

Then a man’s body is discovered behind a false wall in the cellar of the Old Vicarage in the Peak District village of Castledene. Adam‘s view is that this case his. It’s historic, after all, But the first officer on scene D.I. Jim Doggett has other ideas. Doggett is a down to earth copper, ready to needle Adam with casual homophobic jibes just to see if he can get a rise out of him. Adam has to push himself onto the case, only to discover, too late, that he has a conflict of interest which will do his career no good at all. Persuading Doggett to let him in on the case, he also co-opts an intelligent, tenacious P.C. Amina Rabbani whose temper is almost as quick as her ambition. The final member of the team is D.S. Gary Daley, a lazy, ill-tempered man with no time for Adam.

The dead man is believed to be George Cartwright, missing for six years. Elderly neighbours, Lily and Edna clearly know something, but Lily has fugue state phases and Edna is unwell, so how reliable are they really? The narrative in this story is conveyed through Adam and Lily with contributions from the blog entries of an unknown figure, the self-styled Firewatcher, who posts about a series of increasingly serious arson attacks in the area.

Clever plotting connects all these disparate elements together. Suspicious deaths, dodgy dealings arson and a Lowry painting all combine together to offer a powder keg that when it ignites is so explosive that it threatens to take everyone down.

Verdict: A compelling, punchy narrative, excellently drawn characters and a twisted, propulsive plot combine to make this a great read. I’ll certainly look out for the next in the series as Russ Thomas has left a lot of nods of promise to come in his explosive ending.

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Russ Thomas was born in Essex, raised in Berkshire and now lives in Sheffield. He grew up in the 80s reading anything he could get his hands on at the library, writing stories, watching large amounts of television, playing videogames, and largely avoiding the great outdoors. After a few “proper” jobs (among them: pot-washer, optician’s receptionist, supermarket warehouse operative, call-centre telephonist and storage salesman) he discovered the joys of book-selling, where he could talk to people about books all day.

Published by marypicken

Passionate book reader. Love all kind of books from 19th century novels to crime thrillers. My blog is predominantly crime, psychological thrillers and police procedurals with a good helping of literary fiction thrown in.

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